On 13th September, 1999, the moon was blasted out of Earth’s orbit, sending the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha hurtling uncontrollably through space… or at least that’s what happened in ‘Breakaway’, the exceptional first episode of classic sci-fi series Space: 1999.
Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson – of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and UFO fame – this spectacular live-action series ran for two seasons from 1975 to 1977… and now it’s back, courtesy of Big Finish Productions.
Best known for their Doctor Who output, Big Finish had “been talking to [rights holder] ITV for quite some time” about adapting Gerry Anderson shows into audio plays, co-executive producer Nicholas Briggs tells RadioTimes.com. “I first went to ITV to ask about Thunderbirds, seven years ago or something like that, but [CGI reboot] Thunderbirds Are Go was being developed, so Thunderbirds wasn’t available.”
These conversations eventually led to the possibility of adapting Space: 1999, another Anderson series high on Big Finish’s wish list. “It’s been in our hearts for as many years as I can remember,” says senior producer David Richardson. “I joined the company in 2008 and our desire to make Space: 1999 certainly stretched that far back – and I would imagine it pre-dates my joining the company as well.”
The cast of the original Space: 1999 Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
“I’ve known and worked with Big Finish for some time, and I know that it’s been their desire to do this reimagining for even longer than I’ve known them,” says Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry Anderson and head of Anderson Entertainment.
“I’m thrilled that Space: 1999 is making a comeback. Over the years, remakes have been touted again and again – Space: 1999 Legacy, Alpha Moonbase Returns, Space: 2099… it’s been talked about over and over again. And these things have never happened, partly because it would be such a huge undertaking to put something like that together. It would be hugely expensive. And there are all sorts of rights issues and all that kind of thing.
“So to know it’s being brought back in an audio universe is exciting, and I knew the minute that there was even a sniff of it happening that it would get there under Big Finish’s control.”
Big Finish’s Space: 1999 will kick off with their own feature-length audio version of ‘Breakaway’ (“It’s a double-length episode – an audio movie,” says Briggs) which is being released to download and as a CD boxset on 13th September, 2019 – the fictional 20th ‘anniversary’ of the moon leaving Earth’s orbit.
“That was my nifty idea!” says Richardson. “And then next year we’ll do a boxset of four stories – ‘Death’s Other Dominion’ will be one of them, but there will be new stories as well.”
More than four decades on from the original series, a new cast will be bringing Space: 1999’s familiar cast of characters to life, led by BAFTA-winning actor Mark Bonnar (Line of Duty, Catastrophe) who replaces the late Martin Landau as John Koenig, leader of Moonbase Alpha.
“I remember the original quite well, because it was such a part of my childhood,” Bonnar says, recalling how he was “very affected” by the original series, a show aimed ostensibly at a family audience but that “dealt with grown-up issues” and featured “some very graphic moments”.
“That was part of the excitement of watching something like Space: 1999 as a child… I think it’s exciting that it doesn’t pander to a child audience, I think it should be ‘grown-up’ and terrifying.”
Bonnar went back and revisited his childhood favourite ahead of recording the new series. “You want to pay respect to [Landau’s performance],” he says. “It’s still the same character, but it’s my interpretation.”
But a new cast – which also sees a male character, Kano, gender-flipped and now played by actress Amaka Okafor – isn’t the only change made for this reinterpretation. “There’s no point just doing a precise recreation of the original series,” says Jamie Anderson. “So Big Finish are definitely going to take it to new places, but while still feeling like the original.”
The new Space: 1999, we’re promised, will be “a slightly more psychological drama” that delves more into its characters’ backstories. It’ll also avoid the ‘reset button’ format of the original series, episodes of which were often shown out-of-order by broadcasters, meaning that serialised storytelling was discouraged.
“This new series is what Dad and his team would have done if you’d popped them in a time machine and brought them forward to right now, to 2019,” Jamie says. “I mean, it’s not exactly Line of Duty on the moon, but it’s heading more towards that.”
The show’s original, rather outrageous premise – which saw the moon blasted away from Earth by an enormous nuclear explosion – has also been tweaked. “In order to create enough energy to blast the moon out of orbit, that amount of energy would actually destroy the moon!” Briggs says. “So I had to come up with a slightly different idea…”
One change that Big Finish decided against, interestingly enough, was updating the show’s setting – the audio reboot is still set in the year 1999, in what Briggs (who’s also writing and directing the new ‘Breakaway’) calls “an alternative futuristic history.”
“It’s just my preference,” he explains. “I didn’t wanna call it ‘Space: 2099’. So it’s an alternate history, where the space programme wasn’t more-or-less cancelled at the beginning of the ’70s.”
The cast of Big Finish’s new Space: 1999 Big Finish
What, though, does the future hold for Big Finish’s Space: 1999? The next four-story boxset due in 2020 will continue to take inspiration from the TV show’s first series, which was markedly different from the second – a controversial decision to retool the show for Year Two saw it adopt a frothier tone, with a number of characters dropped between series without explanation.
“We haven’t had discussions whether we will go into series two territory,” Richardson says. “I’d like to, actually, I would love to go into series two, but it’s very early days.”
“Big Finish can take it anywhere,” Jamie Anderson suggests. “On audio, there are no visual limits, there are no budgetary limits. So it’s darker, it’s more hard-hitting and it’s more human than the original series.”
“Even though it’s 20 years after the show was set, and 40 after the original was made, space is still to a great extent as much of a mystery now as it was then,” adds Bonnar. “It’s still a hugely unexplored, un-mined region… infinite in its possibilities.”
Space: 1999 – Breakaway is available now from bigfinish.com. An additional box set of four episodes will follow early in 2020.